Last year BC politicians recommended a province-wide police force – but no action is being taken
Ten months ago, a cross-party Legislative Committee recommended BC create a provincial police service, replacing the current model, which consists of a patchwork of services overseen by local RCMP departments, municipal forces, and often additional police services that tie the two together.
But 10 months later, virtually nothing has been done to advance the issue — and no work appears to be happening anytime soon.
“It’s not something that’s on the pre-burner,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Attorney General Mike Farnworth, who also said the province had started work on smaller recommendations from the committee.
“We have a lot to do at the moment so it certainly won’t be in this Parliament.”
Farnworth’s comments come as municipalities across the province compile their budgets for this year — an exercise that has become more expensive and controversial.
$1.2 billion in Metro Van police spending
Overall, Metro Vancouver municipalities plan to spend more than $1.2 billion on police spending in 2023, according to an analysis by CBC News.
These budgets — some of which are still in the draft stages — range from Vancouver at $398 million to Belcarra at less than $100,000. Most controversial is Surrey’s $338 million proposal – a huge increase fueled by the fact that there is both an RCMP and an independent force at the moment, with uncertainty as to which will survive.
With the exception of Surrey, Metro Vancouver’s five local police departments will spend $555 per resident, while residents of the region’s 15 RCMP-controlled departments will spend $312 each.
One of those local departments is New Westminster, where Mayor Patrick Johnstone says direct comparisons don’t take into account the fact that many local police departments are in communities with higher caseloads.
But there are benefits too, he argued.
“They feel like they’re more accountable to the local community and less accountable to Ottawa,” Johnstone said.
“I think there’s a sense that if we pay a little extra to have a local police force, we get benefits from having a more responsive police force.”
Despite this, mayors with local armed forces have recently criticized rules that make them chair their police committee while barring them from voting, raising questions of accountability.
“I think too often people don’t know who the members of the police department are, they aren’t sure who the police department reports to specifically,” Johnstone said.
The removal of mayors as chairmen of police bodies was another recommendation in the committee report, but has also not been implemented so far.
“Balkanized Police System”
Few people have spoken more about the merits of a provincial police force than Kash Heed, who floated the idea when he was BC’s public safety minister in 2009.
“The Balkanized police system that we have in Metro Vancouver and other areas… [is] It costs taxpayers a lot more money,” he said.
Now that he is a Richmond City Councilman, his opinion on the pitfalls of the current system, in which some municipalities run their own police services and some are contracted to the RCMP, has only grown stronger.
“There is very little governance that can come from the City of Richmond. It’s all fully controlled by the federal police agency,” he said.
As for the pitfalls of joining a local police force, Heed points to the other side of the Fraser River.
“We would steer clear of this incredible waste of time and quarrel with the Surrey Police Service, the RCMP and local government … when we established a policing service that actually serves the needs of the communities that make up Metro Vancouver.”
Whilst that seems unlikely for some time to come, there remain many jurisdictional policing questions for Farnworth Department to decide in the meantime – including the forthcoming decision on the future of policing in Surrey.
“There’s a lot going on in this room right now,” Johnstone said, “and I don’t envy the attorney general trying to figure it out.”